‘#36 DEAREST’ by Joy Williams

With some stories you’re smitten from the first sentence, which is just as well when it’s from 99 Stories of God. Each story is less than a page long, some just a couple of paragraphs. I could write out the whole of ‘#36’ and probably still hit my word count. It’s about a house owned by Penny, a house Penny never liked but her tenants adored. They want to buy it but she takes against them. “Penny found them irritating in any number of ways – they were ostentatious, full of self-regard, and cheap. They also did not read.” That I read this after a short-lived stint as a landlord with tenants I also came to loathe might have everything to do with why I love the story so much if it wasn’t also perfectly written. Penny is both a normal person and, in her own way, God. Find the collection; there are 98 other gems as well as this one. 

Collected in 99 Stories of God, Tuskar Rock Press, 2017

‘Preparation for a Collie’ by Joy Williams

There is a part of me that would quite like to be Joy Williams. She lives in the middle of nowhere with her large, strange dogs and she drives a battered car. I may have read that in the The Paris Review or I may have imagined it while reading The Visiting Privilege. I came across the book in 2015 whilst on a US tour with my first book, In the Name of the People: Angola’s Forgotten Massacre. I was in the bookshop at the University of North Carolina. The staff in the shop were lovely, and I felt welcome to sit down and start reading this book. I was drawn to it because of the cover, with its fuzzy image of a German Shepherd dog. And perhaps I cannot forget this particular story because it also has a dog in it – and it is brutal. Williams’ stories are always shot through with humour though, no matter how unpleasant the tale. For the last three years, I have not been able to get this image out of my head: “David wraps his legs around his father’s chest and pees all over him. Their clothing turns dark as though, together, they’d been shot.” Oh, Joy!

From The Visiting Privilege, Knopf, 2015. Originally published in Taking Care by Joy Williams, Random House, 1972